Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


6:05 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Regional Group for bringing forward this Bill. I welcome the opportunity to speak on it.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the penalties for those found guilty of an offence under section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which deals with fraudulent actions. Section 26 states the plaintiff in a personal injuries action who gives evidence that is false or misleading in any material respect and knows it to be false or misleading shall have his or her action dismissed unless such dismissal would result in injustice being done. The proposed amendment Bill states that where a person's case has been dismissed pursuant to section 26 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, the plaintiff must pay the legal expenses of the defendant. The Bill provides that the court can direct that the matter be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, for investigation. The Bill allows for judicial discretion, which I support. The Bill also increases the fine the District Court can hand out under the original Act from the current €3,000 to €5,000. My colleague, an Teachta Kenny, has spoken on the issue.

In an answer to a parliamentary question submitted by my colleague, an Teachta Doherty, in 2019, the then Minister for Justice and Equality stated that in the period 1 November 2018 to the end of May 2019, 50 incidents of insurance fraud were recorded, an average of seven cases per month. Some spurious cases may have been encouraged by a no win-no fee arrangement with a solicitor. There is a perception that fraud and exaggerated claims have been increasing in recent years with little or no consequence or risk to making such claims. I understand some have no choice but to use the no win-no fee arrangement because they simply cannot afford anything else. That does not mean all of those claims are fraudulent.

Many insurance customers are of the view that this has significantly contributed to a culture where a small percentage of people may be encouraged to make fraudulent claims without any real consequences should they be unsuccessful. Significant costs are incurred by business owners, in particular in defending their case in court. Businesses have faced soaring insurance premiums as a result of the action of fraudulent claims . Some business owners have told me their insurance companies are too quick to settle claims because it is sometimes more expensive to fight them.

A minority of claimants bring fraudulent claims to court in the hope of receiving significant awards. The aim of this Bill is to act as a deterrent to those making false claims by increasing penalties, including the possibility of the plaintiff having to pay the legal costs of the defendant and of the matter being referred to the DPP for investigation.

Insurance fraud should not pay and this message is evident in this legislation. Not only should it not pay, it should not be a burden on innocent insurance customers. It has a cost for every one of us. While there have been some recent cases of claims being thrown out of court, there has been little or no follow-up or penalties incurred as a result. Without penalty or consequences, the practice will only continue.

This Bill is similar to one published by the now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when he was in opposition. Unlike so many of the initiatives proposed by the Opposition in the term of this Dáil to date, I hope the Government will not turn its back on measures each party has supported in the past. I believe this Bill will act as a genuine deterrent to those making false claims, and I add my support to it.


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